Old Main: A Peak Into a Dark Past

Old Main: A Peak Into a Dark Past

Old Main Lunatic Asylum was home to violent mentally ill people, but it was also home to practices that would be considered torture in this day and age.

The old main was originally called the New York state lunatic asylum at Utica.  Back when it was created in 1843 it was definitely a place you didn’t want to be.


“Initially it was local and it was and initially it was on a volunteer basis people could check themselves in and out whenever they wanted to basically, but eventually it became a place where people were basically checked into," said the Vice President of the Rutger Park restoration Michael Bosak.


Eyewitness news historian Joe Kelly remembers it as a scary looking place.


“It always had kind of an eerie feel to it, because you were never really sure what was going on in there," said Kelly.

Now, we know some of the stuff going on would be considered torture today.


"I mean, some of the stories were actually pretty horrific actually over time, but that was the most current thinking during the day where people would be treated through dunking or lobotomies and all that," said Bosak.


One of those treatments is the Utica crib, which looks more like a cage and was used to take insane people outside.  It wasn’t all bad at the old main though.


“There are so many innovative things that happened in this building, again, occupational therapy was founded here and a lot of innovative ways to treat mentally ill cam about from this building."

“It was a place to send people.  A lot of times they didn’t have mental illness, but they had an illness that they didn’t know what it was.  It could have been epilepsy, it could have been autism.  They didn’t know what it was back there, so into the lunatic asylum they went, unfortunately,"

The asylum also had outdoor space similar to farms, which historians told me was believed to help people heal.  The old main shut down in 1978.

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